Here are two great stories to NEVER tell:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking things up and gently throwing them into the ocean.
“Hey kid, what are you doing?”
“Throwing starfish back into the water, sir. The storm washed them up on the beach last night and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“But there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You can’t possibly make a difference!”
The boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.
“I made a difference for that one!”
It’s a sweet story and you’re probably thinking, What’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t we share that beautiful story?
Here’s the problem—actually two problems:
First, it’s not our story; it’s from a book called The Star Thrower written by Loren Eisely, and it’s under copyright. Unless a speaker licenses the rights to it, they could be prosecuted for telling it on stage—especially if they pass it off as their own.
The second problem?
Countless speakers—like thousands of starfish washed up on the beach—have assumed that “The Starfish Story” is public domain and dropped it into their presentations.
“The Starfish Story” is so overused—it’s such a cliché—that it’s become a running joke amongst members of the National Speakers Association. At one of their national conventions, speakers were challenged to create their own parodies of the story as part of a contest! As inspiring as it may be, “The Starfish Story” tops the list of stories to never tell.
Also high on the list of stories to never tell is “The Chauffeur Story”:
After receiving the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918, Max Planck went on tour across Germany. Wherever he went, he delivered the same lecture on quantum mechanics. Over time, his chauffeur grew to know it by heart: “It must be boring giving the same speech every time, Professor Planck. How about I do it for you in Munich? You can sit in the front row and wear my chauffeur’s cap. No one will know the difference!”
Planck liked the idea, and that evening the driver gave a long lecture on quantum mechanics to a distinguished audience. At the end, a physics professor stood up with a question. The driver recoiled: “Never would I have thought that someone from such a sophisticated audience would ask such a simple question! I will ask my chauffeur to answer it.”
Though Time Magazine reported this as a true story in 2015, it never actually happened.
But true or not, this is another cliché story that too many speakers drop into their keynotes. Like the Starfish Story, it’s overused, and unoriginal.
How will your audience feel if two speakers tell the same story at the same event?
Why would a speaker set themself up to look unoriginal by actually being unoriginal?
A speaker doesn’t have to have run a marathon, survived cancer, climbed a mountain, or sailed across an ocean to have a worthwhile original story. Take any block of four adjacent office cubicles and you’ll find four people who share stories that are outrageous, funny, and full of ideas worth sharing. Anyone who’s been in a relationship, owned a pet, or gone camping has a story!
Stories are everywhere!
The best writers and speakers will tell you, “Here’s my story and here’s how that story will serve your audience.” Put anything not written by you on your list of stories to never tell.